NYT on Bush's Yale Reception

Nathan Newman nathan at newman.org
Mon May 21 22:51:09 PDT 2001

A pretty good account of the protests and reception Bush got- NN

May 22, 2001 Bush Returns to Yale, but Welcome Is Not All Warm By FRANK BRUNI

Picture- Hundreds of signs with anti-Bush messages dotted the graduation ceremony on Monday at Yale University.

NEW HAVEN, May 21 - President Bush returned to Yale University today and warmly reached out to an alma mater he had spent much of his political life pushing away, but the embrace was not entirely mutual.

Before and after Mr. Bush made remarks at the university's 300th commencement, the boos from graduating students were as loud as the cheers, and he gazed from a stage on the Old Campus at hundreds of yellow paper signs with messages that protested his policies and positions.

Although university trustees paid tribute to Mr. Bush by awarding him an honorary doctor of laws degree and the university's president lavished him with praise, many students were not willing to follow suit.

And the mood of the reception the more than 2,000 students gave Mr. Bush differed sharply from the mood of his speech, a lighthearted, gamely self-effacing and oddly defiant rendering of his college days, which he likened to a college daze.

He alluded to a tendency to nap. He alluded to activities that sometimes blotted out memory. He alluded, again and again, to an academic record of limited achievement.

"To those of you who received honors, awards and distinctions, I say, well done," Mr. Bush said. "And to the C students, I say, you, too, can be president of the United States."

That comment drew widespread and appreciative laughter, but when Mr. Bush mentioned that he had received his first degree from the university in 1968, one student shouted, "Barely!"

It was not the only catcall. And it contributed to an unusual homecoming for a man who was born in New Haven, where his father was a Yale student, became the third generation of Bushes to attend the school and later, for reasons personal and political, cast Yale as the paragon of an uncomely intellectual elitism. Mr. Bush had not been back to visit Yale, several of his aides said, for at least a decade.

Classmates said one reason was his anger over the length of time it took the university to give an honorary degree to his father, who received one in 1991, after more than two years in the presidency and eight in the vice presidency.

But they suggested that another reason was politics. When Mr. Bush was focused on his political career in Texas, Yale did not fit into the image he was cultivating as a folksy, ordinary guy. Now that he is president, his Yale bona fides better serve the stature he needs to convey.

He told students today, "In my time, they spoke of the `Yale man.' I was never really sure what that was. But I do think that I'm a better man because of Yale."

And he is, all of a sudden, a more vocal proponent of the university. One of his daughters, Barbara, just finished her freshman year here, and Mr. Bush's excitement about having a member of the fourth generation of the family attend Yale revealed that beneath his anti-Ivy-League bluster, he cares deeply about certain traditions.

Yale does not usually have a commencement speaker. But if one of the people slated to receive an honorary degree at commencement exercises is an American president, he gets to deliver a short, nonpolitical address.

Usually, the major speech connected with commencement is delivered a day earlier, at Class Day, and the speaker on Sunday was Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Democrat of New York. She did not draw the kind of negative reaction that Mr. Bush did on the decidedly liberal campus, where not only Al Gore but also Ralph Nader beat Mr. Bush in the 2000 election.

Mr. Bush's presence infuriated many faculty members, more than 200 of whom signed a petition of protest. One of them, Peter Brooks, who teaches comparative literature and French, said Mr. Bush had been in office too briefly to be accorded an honorary degree for his public service.

"He's still such a cipher," Professor Brooks said.

But the comments and placards of many of the hundreds of students opposed to Mr. Bush's appearance made clear that the president's conservatism was at issue.

The sheets of yellow paper that graduates held up included messages like "Execute Justice, Not People," "Stop Global AIDS" and "Protect Reproductive Rights." Scores of these students had pasted atop their graduation caps a picture of Mr. Bush's face, bisected and nullified by a fat black line.

Some of the graduates in the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies had bushy clumps of leaves or mock smokestacks atop their caps and stood and turned their backs on Mr. Bush as he began speaking, a gesture symbolizing their belief that he was turning his back on the environment.

But Mr. Bush seemed undeterred and upbeat.

He noted that Dick Cheney had dropped out of Yale and joked that this development explained why Mr. Cheney was only the vice president.

And he made lavish fun of his tendency to despoil the English language. Remembering that he had once taken a course at Yale on a certain kind of Japanese poetry, he said, "My critics don't realize I don't make verbal gaffes. I'm speaking in the perfect forms and rhythms of ancient haiku."

He later added, "Everything I know about the spoken word, I learned right here at Yale."

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